Weekly: Estonia's feted startups face their first major economic test

Official launch of sTARTUp Day in Tartu earlier this year.
Official launch of sTARTUp Day in Tartu earlier this year. Source: Mirjam Savioja/University of Tartu

The myth of the quiet, introverted Estonian falls apart when seen in the context of a whole generation of young start-up founders, who have taken the whole tech world by storm over the past decade, investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress writes, but who now face tougher times economically.

The top four companies by capitalization, CRM software firm Pipedrive, secure ID verification solutions firm Veriff, online payments provider Wise and ride-hailing, vehicle rental and courier app company Bolt, together are valued at around €16 billion – a sum comparable to next year's state budget for the whole of Estonia, Eesti Ekspress writes (link in Estonian).

Part of the reason for Estonian start-ups' success stories simply comes down to timing – the major companies were nearly all founded after the 2008-2010 crash, which has been followed by rounds of quantitative easing (printing money) by many western central banks, including the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, which in turn has fueled the growth of start-ups, while the growth in tech in general and the advent of cryptocurrencies has also been essential.

Estonia now has around half-a-dozen "unicorn" firms (valued at a billion US dollars or more) which, while lower than Israel's figure (nearly 100), per capita Estonia's figure tops the table, as is the case with funding rounds also – well over 9,000 start-ups in Israel raised close to US$13 billion last year, while just 90 Estonian tech firms brought in nearly a billion over the same time period, Eesti Ekspress reports.

Co-founder of Bolt, Martin Villig, called for continued education and the fact that every citizen counts, if the success is to continue to the dawn of the 2030s, particularly given Estonia's mineral resource-poor profile, while a continued tech sector growth of 30 percent per year – as has been the case so far – will help to maintain average wages in the sector of at least double the national average.

Bolt is also headquartered in Estonia, while Wise is headquartered in the UK, Veriff in the US.

At the same time, not only is there still a personnel shortage in Estonia, not only in tech but in all areas, including cleaning staff, Eesti Ekspress says, the start-up whizz kids may be facing tough times ahead with spiraling inflation, the after effects of the Covid pandemic, and the changed security situation.

Turning off the money supply faucets could lead to a sea change in the sector, while some of the top companies, including Veriff, Zego and Twillion, have already laid off between 10 and 20 percent of their staff in the past year or so – while for Starship the figure was as high as 50 percent during the pandemic, after which it hired more people after getting a €50-million loan from the European Investment Bank, only to subsequently have to make more lay-offs.

The top 10 companies on Eesti Ekspress' start-up list (of 30) are: Bolt, valued at €7.4 billion, Wise, valued at €5.79 billion, Veriff at €1.33 billion, Pipedrive (€1.27 billion), followed by Digital Customer Service company Glia. (€908 million), cryptocurrency gambling, blockchain and casino solutions provider Yolo Group (€687 million), ultracapacitors manufacturer Skeleton (€585 million), money transfer platform Monese (€398 million), robotics creator Starship Technologies (€333 million) and avatar platform Ready Player Me (€300 million).

The full list and original Eesti Ekspress article (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Eesti Ekspress

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